Syrian amnesty dismissed by opposition, US

The announcement was shrugged off by Syrian opposition activists and the USA.

Last Updated: Jun 01, 2011, 11:42 AM IST

Damascus: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has decreed a general amnesty for political prisoners, a move dismissed by the opposition and Washington, as the crackdown on dissent claimed more lives.

"President Assad has by decree issued an amnesty on all (political) crimes committed before May 31, 2011," the official SANA news agency reported on Tuesday.

"The amnesty applies to all political prisoners as well as to the Muslim Brotherhood."

The announcement, after two months of deadly anti-regime protests, was shrugged off by Syrian opposition activists gathered in Turkey.

"This measure is insufficient: we demanded this amnesty several years ago, but it`s late in coming," said Abdel Razak Eid, an activist from the Damascus Declaration, a reformist group launched in 2005 to demand democratic change.

"We are united under the slogan: the people want the fall of the regime and all those who have committed crimes brought to account. Blood will not have been spilled in vain," he said.

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation at the Antalya meeting, Melhem al-Durubi, said: "The Brotherhood joins with the Syrian people in calling for the fall of the regime."

And in Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Assad had still not done enough.

"He has not called an end to the violence against his own people, and he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts," Clinton said.

"Every day that goes by, the position of the government becomes less tenable and the demands of the Syrian people for change only grow stronger," she told reporters.

But Abdul Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian Human Rights League, welcomed the amnesty and urged the government to "take further steps to boost respect for human rights" in Syria.
And Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said any such measures were positive.

"If this includes prisoners of conscience and the Muslim Brotherhood, this measure is a step in the right direction," he added.

The release of political prisoners has been a central demand of protesters.

Inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, they have since March 15 been staging almost daily demonstrations against Assad`s autocratic government.

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed and at least 10,000 arrested in a brutal crackdown by the regime on the protests, rights organisations say.

The amnesty announcement came soon after a senior official in Syria`s ruling Baath party reportedly said that a committee for national dialogue in the troubled country would be set up within 48 hours.

Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, quoted party number two Mohammed Said Bkhetan as saying the committee`s members would be wide-ranging.

But the opposition have repeatedly insisted that dialogue can only take place once the violence ends, political prisoners are freed and reforms adopted.

The government insists the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.

The authorities initially responded to the revolt by offering some concessions, including lifting the state of emergency in place for nearly five decades. But they also launched a fierce crackdown.

A rights activist said Syrian security forces had shot dead three more civilians Tuesday.
"Ibrahim Salhum was killed today at Rastan" near the city of Homs, as the military tried to quell protests there for the third straight day, the activist said.

Security forces shot another two people in Hirak, a town in the flashpoint southern province of Daraa.

Another activist earlier Tuesday reported machine-gun fire around Rastan, as military operations continued for a third straight day.

Residents of the town had attacked a police station and seized weapons near the place where a girl, identified as Hajar al-Khatib, and 10 other civilians were killed on Sunday, he said.

Foreign journalists are barred from travelling around Syria, making it difficult to report on the unrest and verify witness accounts.

Syria has come under increasing pressure internationally to end its crackdown and allow peaceful demonstrations.

European nations are pressing a campaign to get the UN Security Council to warn Damascus that its actions against demonstrators could constitute crimes against humanity.

United Nations rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday said the crackdown was shocking in its disregard for human rights.

And the UN children`s agency said Tuesday it had reports that 30 children had been shot dead during the clampdown.

The UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF) also raised concerns about children who have been detained and tortured.

Syrian state media said earlier that an inquiry would be carried out into the death of a 13-year-old boy allegedly tortured by Syrian security forces.

Bureau Report